Last week, one ofAmerica’s most notorious rats departed from the Earth. Perhaps with the exception of that of Sammy “The Bull” Gravano, there was no other snitch with whose name Americans were more familiar than that of “Henry Hill.”
Unlike Gravano—who, being the right-hand henchman of the now deceased mafia star, John Gotti, achieved a place of distinction in the annals of organized thugdom—Hill was never more than a low-ranking mob “associate.” But although during his life in organized crime the latter never achieved either the power or the recognition attained by the former, Hollywoodassured Hill a post-mob existence ridden with the awe that he failed to elicit from other vermin.
Martin Scorcese’s film Good Fellas catapulted Hill into the national limelight. He became a sought after guest for a number of tabloid television programs and a frequent quest on Howard Stern’s radio show. In the years immediately prior to his death, he even authored a cook book.
Had Hill genuinely repented of his past transgressions; had he exploited his newly found popularity to wage a campaign against the underworld of which he had once been a member; had he tirelessly spoken out against the moral and aesthetic shallowness that informs Hollywood’s efforts to romanticize the wastes of sperm in whose image he spent much of his life shaping his own identity—then he would have been a worthy candidate for forgiveness.
But Hill, like Gravano and the legions of other rats that turned state witnesses for no other reason than to save their own asses, failed abysmally to make amends with God and the society that they undercut at every turn.
The same narcissism that animated Hill’s conduct while in the mob accounts for his decision to cooperate with the authorities in sending his friends to prison for the remainder of their natural existences. It is also this narcissism that explains the crass opportunism that Hill exhibited during his post-mob days.
The Godly and the good are obliged to renounce evil. They have no option but to call it out for what it is regardless of where it rears its hideous head. Men like Hill—gangsters and criminals—we must be willing to recognize for the specimens of villainy that they are. At the same time, we should be just as willing—just as eager—to draw attention to the exemplars of virtue in our midst.
One such exemplar is Guardian Angel founder and radio talk show host Curtis Sliwa.
For over thirty years, Sliwa has helped untold numbers of people from across the country and throughout the planet combat crime in their communities by organizing themselves into citizen patrol squads. He has not only been remarkably successful; in start contrast to the Henry Hills of the world, Sliwa has used his fame for the purpose of identifying—and stopping—the wicked amongst us.
The man is as courageous as his campaign against evil doers is indefatigable.
During the summer of 1992, in response to the relentless criticism that Sliwa would heap upon the organized criminal network of his nativeNew York City, and the Gambino family particularly, Gottis father and son arranged to have him beaten by several men with baseball bats.
Sliwa took the beating. But he also returned promptly to his job on the radio where he returned fire with a vengeance.
A few months later, the Gottis struck again. This time, though, they went in for the kill.
One night Sliwa hailed a cab. Unbeknownst to him, the driver was a hit man. At nearly point-blank range, he shot Sliwa five times. During the mayhem, the latter managed to wiggle his way out of the passenger’s window as the car was moving.
Sliwa not only survived this attempt on his life. The very next day, from his hospital bed, Sliwa was back on the airwaves going at the Gottis with everything he had.
Years later, when Junior Gotti was on trial for all manner of criminal wrongdoing, including attempted murder vis-à-vis Sliwa, the crime buster reassured the media and his listeners of his plan to “get in his [Gotti’s] face” as much as possible.
The fight against evil requires not only that we repudiate the treacherous. It requires as well that we affirm the heroic.
Sadly, we should not expectHollywoodto follow this lead anytime soon. Hundreds of more films will be made lionizing rats and other parasites before anyone will dare to propose, let alone produce, a big budget film depicting the exploits of real men like Curtis Sliwa.